1. Christians don’t sin? 2. Universalism? 3. “Tomb evangelism”. 4. Can human beings see God or not?
Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.”
Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply. It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.” If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did.
But don’t hold your breath. He hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to my previous 27 installments. Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me, encouraged by Bob on his blog, his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”
Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).
In his article, “Top 20 Most Damning Bible Contradictions” (10-20-18), Bible-Bashing Bob opined:
You’ve probably seen lists of Bible contradictions. Here are my favorites. Play along at home and see which of these are your list, too.
My focus here is just on contradictions in the Bible. These are mostly clashes between two sets of verses in the Bible, but some are the Bible clashing with reality. . . .
1. Christians sin, just like everyone else (or do they?)
Everyone knows that no human except Jesus lived a sinless life. The Bible says:
Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
. . . But . . . (plot twist!) ordinary Christians don’t sin.
No one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him (1 John 5:18; see also 1 John 3:6, 3:9).
So which is it—are all people sinners, or are Christians the exception?
Virtually all men have sinned. But it is not the case that it is impossible for a human being to be without sin. Catholics believe the Blessed Virgin Mary was such a person. I’ve explained how we can do so in light of Romans 3:23 above: which is often thrown in our faces by anti-Catholic Protestants: “All Have Sinned” vs. a Sinless, Immaculate Mary? (National Catholic Register, 12-11-17).
1 John is written in largely proverbial, or idealized language. The seemingly absolute statements of 1 John 5:18 and 3:6, 9 are qualified by other statements in context. Of course, believers sin all the time. In proverbial literature, the intention is not absolute and all-encompassing, without exception, but rather, common-sense observation of what usually accompanies a certain state or condition. Thus, John is saying that “those in Christ do not sin,” or, more accurately, “the essence of the person in Christ is righteousness; sin is contrary to the essence of a Christian.” But John further clarifies 1 John 5:18 (what Bob would claim is a “contradiction”) in the first chapter of his epistle:
1 John 1:8-9 (RSV) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (cf. 2:12)
But in fact it is no contradiction at all, because proverbial literature is not meant to be interpreted in such absolute, airtight terms. Bob (like so many atheists), unthinkingly and automatically applies a wooden, boorish, hostile interpretation, which completely ignores genre and context. I’ve demonstrated time and again that he is guilty of this rather foolish practice, throughout my previous 27 installments.
Now, lest Bob claim that my interpretation is merely special pleading, with no indication in the epistle itself, I would point out to him the following passages, which explain John’s meaning in the three “Christians don’t sin” passages (note especially the qualifying words “if” and “but”):
1 John 1:6-7 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth;  but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 2:3-6 And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments.  He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him;  but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him:  he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
Thus, it’s no contradiction when both ideas (absence of sin and sin) appear in one passage: because the meaning is rather easily understood in the overall context (that Bob ignores, as usual):
1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
Addendum: But why worry about sin? Every one of us is already saved.
Paul draws a parallel between the man who got us into this mess (Adam, who ate the forbidden fruit and gave mankind Original Sin) and the one who got us out (Jesus, whose perfect sacrifice saved us all).
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19).
We didn’t opt in to get the sin of Adam, and we needn’t opt in to get the salvation of Jesus. No belief is necessary. Paul assures us we’re good.
This is more asinine foolishness. I’ve already (way back in 2006) wrangled at extreme length about supposed biblical universalism with an atheist far more eminent than Bob: Dr. Ted Drange. This included analysis of Romans 5. The Book of Revelation also makes it very clear that universalism is false and not biblical teaching, and that some obstinate folks definitely end up in hell.
2. The women spread the word of the empty tomb (or did they?)
Women discovered the empty tomb of Jesus and returned to tell the others.
The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples (Matthew 28:8).
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others (Luke 24:9).
Or did they? Mark has a different ending.
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)
And that’s how the original version of the gospel of Mark ended.
Christian apologist Eric Lyons answers this:
Barker, McKinsey, and other critics who point to Mark 16:8 as contradicting Matthew 28:8 and Luke 24:9 fail to consider that these verses are incongruous only if the writers were referring to the exact same period of the day. The truth is, initially, the women were afraid and silent, as Mark recorded. Then, later that day, they broke their silence and “told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest” (Luke 24:9). Mark’s narrative does not contradict Matthew and Luke, but supplements their accounts. What’s more, if Bible critics were to examine all of Mark’s resurrection narrative, they would learn that following the women’s temporary silence regarding Jesus’ empty tomb (16:8), Mary Magdalene “told those who had been with Him” (16:10) just as the angel had commanded her and the other women earlier in the day (16:7). Thus, Mark defined what he meant when he wrote “they said nothing to anyone.” They said nothing for a time, and then later bore witness of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples.
Now, Bob will reply that 16:10 is from the later addition (and most students of the Bible agree). But Mark 16:7 was not part of the addition and it referred to the angel commanding them to tell others, which 16:10 and Matthew 28:8 and Luke 24:9 confirm that they indeed did. No problem . . .
4. No one can see God (or can they?)
No one has ever seen God (1 John 4:12).
No man has seen or can see [God] (1 Timothy 6:16).
But Adam and Eve saw God. So did Abraham and Moses:
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day (Genesis 18:1).
The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11).
This utterly neglects the biblical motif of the “angel of the Lord” who is a visible representation of God. Because Bob’s “study of the Bible has been haphazard”: as he admits, he hasn’t taken the time to properly study this. And of course he doesn’t care to, anyway, because he thinks this is yet another of his innumerable fake “contradictions”: which he thinks is a fun and enjoyable pastime, within his overall mission in life of mocking and belittling Christians. In reality, however, he makes an ass of himself (not Christians and Christianity) over and over, as I have documented: now for the 28th time (with no reply from this giant of biblical “scholarship” [choke!]).
The Bible clearly refers to these instances as appearances of angels, or else appearances of things such as fire. What Moses actually saw on Mt. Sinai was a burning bush: a fire that didn’t consume the bush (Ex 3:2-3). But the text shows that the angel of the Lord represented God, Who is in fact invisible:
Exodus 3:2, 4 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; . . .  When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, . . .
Note that it says that “God” called out, but what actually “appeared” was the angel of the Lord. Of course, Bob doesn’t believe anything in the Bible, but that’s beside the point. He is always claiming that the Bible contradicts itself; that it is internally contradictory. And I’m showing over and over that his examples simply don’t prove that. This is no contradiction. God the Father is invisible and can’t be seen. But an angel can represent Him, and as such is sometimes called God, or equated with God: just as an ambassador represents a country.
Bob’s example of Genesis 18 is also easily explained in context, in the same way. The Lord “appeared” but exactly how did He do so? He did through three men, who were actually angels, as I will explain shortly. The very next verse (Gen 18:2) states what he actually saw: “He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him.” Two of them left, on the way to Sodom and Gomorrah, and then the text states: “Abraham still stood before the LORD” (18:22; cf. 19:27). Genesis 19:1 describes these two men as “angels” and then two later passages show how these angels represented God and acted as His agents:
Genesis 19:13, 24 “for we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” . . .  Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomor’rah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; (cf. 19:25, 29)
This sort of equation happens several more times in Scripture. Jacob famously wrestled with an angel (again called a “man”: Gen 32:24-25), and then says that he has “seen God face to face” (32:30). Manoah saw an “angel of the Lord”: as the passage states over and over (Judges 13:9, 13-21). Then he said to his wife: “We shall surely die, for we have seen God” (13:22). Gideon and the prophet Zechariah make all this crystal clear:
Judges 6:22-23 Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD; and Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.”  But the LORD said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.”
Zechariah 12:8 . . . the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, at their head.
Joshua even bowed before and worshiped one such (very impressive!) angel of the Lord, because He represented God:
Joshua 5:13-15 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”  And he said, “No; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said to him, “What does my lord bid his servant?”  And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.
In Judges 2:1, the angel of the Lord speaks as if He were God (who liberated the Jews from Egyptian slavery).
It’s amazing what one can learn if they actually takes the time to seriously study the Bible, isn’t it? Bob’s out to sea, but he doesn’t know it. Ignorance is bliss. He can’t even get it right about Adam and Eve. He apparently either didn’t even read the relevant text, or grossly misinterpreted it, for Genesis 3:8 states that they “heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden.” It never claims that they saw Him. So where did Bob get the idea that they did? I guess he thinks blind people can see, if he equates hearing with seeing. Makes as much sense as all the other examples of his silliness . . . Bob is a living, walking example of Solomon’s wisdom from 3000 years ago:
Proverbs 12:23 A prudent man conceals his knowledge, but fools proclaim their folly.
Photo credit: The laughing court jester (anonymous: Netherlands: 15th century) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]